“In relation to any given subject, the conversation would develop into something quite far-reaching and quite complex that was really difficult to grasp…it would change from one topic to another, [leading to] deeper issues, deeper questions, deeper answers.” So said a witness to the Inquiry on February 9th when asked of Alexander Litvinenko’s indulgence of conspiracy theories. The same could be said for the whole inquiry.
Over the last few days the inquiry has dug further into the motivations and characters of the three people at the heart of this inquiry: Alexander Litvinenko and his two alleged killers, Andrei Lugovoy and Dimitri Kovtun. We have heard how, after the rejection of Mr Litvinenko’s concerns about the activities of the secret unit within the FSB (successor to the KGB) for which he worked, his relationship with Vladimir Putin, his new boss, soured. Mr Litvinenko, through his work as an investigator of organised crime, already believed Putin to be in league with a St Petersburg crime gang. Having lost the confidence of his boss and many colleagues through his questioning of orders and doubting the legality of his unit’s activities, he was subsequently shepherded out of the FSB. His picture was even used for target practice (see video here).
He then wrote two books, the first of which was called ‘Blowing Up Russia’. In it Mr Litvinenko alleged Putin had masterminded the 1999 apartment block bombings in Moscow, which had been blamed on Chechen separatists. These caused hundreds of deaths, sparked the second Chechen war and paved the way for Putin’s ascendency to President of Russia. A TV documentary based on the book, called ‘Assassination of Russia’, was promoted by three members of the Russian parliament who tried to investigate the allegations. All three were killed or subsequently died in unexplained circumstances.
Undeterred, Mr Litvinenko then published his second book, ‘The Gang from the Lubyanka’. His central allegation was that: “The main secret [in Russia] is the relationship of our President Putin and the criminal element by the name of Barsukov-Kumarin. This is the leader of the Tambov criminal organisation.” His actions could be indicative of a reckless flair for self-publicity. Either that or he had decided to adapt the tactic, beloved of many spies, of ‘hiding in plain sight’. So, instead of blending into the crowd he chose to stand out as far as possible, believing that by being so public with his accusations no action could be taken against him. Two weeks before his poisoning he even gave a speech in London’s Frontline Club to accuse Putin of ordering the murder of investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya (see video here). But as Mr Emmerson, counsel to the Litvinenko family, said in his opening statement: “In revealing Putin’s links to organised crime, Mr Litvinenko had reached a point where he was hovering near the flame like the proverbial moth.” Bold stuff.
Less is known about Mr Lugovoy and Mr Kovtun, as they are not contributing in any way to this inquiry. This is primarily because Britain’s Crown Prosecution Service has issued warrants for their arrest for Mr Litvinenko’s murder (see here and here). So we’re not expecting to see them any time soon, either in person or video link. But the inquiry did hear evidence from earlier statements made by Mr Lugovoy, who was by far the more loquacious.
The inquiry heard from a press conference Mr Lugovoy, (who is currently a Russian MP) gave in 2007, in the wake of the allegations against him. He described how he was born into a military family and was “brought up in the tradition of a real Russian officer”. He said he was “proud that for the last few years…Russia started to gain its place in the world as a stage of geopolitical importance, which has always influenced politics and I hope will influence politics. It was so before the October revolution, and after it. There was a small period of time when nobody took Russia into account for ten years. Now, gentlemen, you will have to take Russia into account”. He considered Mr Litvinenko a traitor and, when asked if he should be killed in the interests of the Russian state answered: “If someone has caused the Russian state serious damage, they should be exterminated. This is my firm belief and the belief of any normal Russian.”
Retired British Major General, John Holmes, head of a security company for which Mr Litvinenko was a consultant, said in evidence on February 9th that “it’s not an open book in Russia…Russia is a very opaque place”. Mr Lugovoy’s statement was a rare example of unequivocal Russian clarity.
More to follow…
All linked material reproduced here is courtesy of the Litvinenko Inquiry –www.litvinenkoinquiry.org.